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20 Questions: William R. Wills, Pharmacist

Created October 12, 2011 by Lee

William R. Wills, owner and founder of Grandpa’s Compounding Pharmacy in Placerville, Calif., received his pharmacy degree from Washington State University in Pullman and served his pharmacy internship at Yakima Indian Reservation in Toppenish, Washington. Prior to his founding Grandpa’s in 1996 (at the time the 26th “compounding only” store in the nation), Mr. Wills was a pharmacist at Placerville’s Robinson’s Pharmacy for 25 years, and before that, he started a pharmacy in Marino’s Grocery in Plymouth, California.

During the span of his career, Mr. Wills has developed multiple new treatments currently used worldwide, including a topical muscle relaxant used by major sports and Olympic teams, anti-nausea gel for hospice, sexual enhancement cream for women, radiation burn cream, medicine for mouth lesions, topical gel for horses’ hooves, vitamin cream for patients with diabetes and a unique method to eliminate addiction and withdrawal. He was also the first pharmacist in history to compound antibiotics for treatment of whales in the wild.

Grandpa’s Compounding Pharmacy has been featured in national and international news broadcasts, and Mr. Wills has been inducted as a Full Fellow in the International Academy of Compounding Pharmacists, as well as recognized as Innovative Pharmacist of the Year by the California Pharmacist Association in 2008.

When did you first decide to become a pharmacist? Why?
I had been out of high school for five years, had three children, and had got caught in company downsizing. I went to work for a couple of veterinarians who were personal friends who kept encouraging me to get some type of training so I could care for my family and do for others the things I wanted to do.

I started night school and worked with a check list that contained such questions as, “What did I like in high school? What have I discovered I like since then? What do I want my job/occupation to do for me and mine?” Into my third semester of night school, someone asked if I had considered pharmacy. I looked into it, and it more closely fit our (my wife and my) expectations than any other thing I had looked at in the previous one and a half years.

How/why did you choose the school you went to?
I sent queries to most of the schools on the west coast, not wanting to move far since by that time we had four children. Eliminating most for many reasons, I finally decided on Washington State University in Pullman, because one of the veterinarians I worked for had a brother in the town who was willing to help us get settled and be surrogate parents for us while there, and the other veterinarian had connections there to help me get a job.

Why did you decide to focus on compounding?
When I got out of school, independent pharmacy best fit my personality and desire to serve. In working in that environment, I had the opportunity to do compounding. In the mid 80s, there was a great surge in the amount of compounding that could be done, and I took advantage of the situation at the time and increased the amount we were doing at the pharmacy where I was working.

With time, I was spending about as much time compounding, on my own time, as I was on the prescription counter. At that time, the public was signing up with more and more insurance companies, and as a pharmacist we had to tell the patient that for whatever reason the insurance company was not going to cover it, and when they did cover it the amount that they paid the pharmacy made it difficult to stay a profitable business.

I was ready to quit pharmacy altogether when my son was in his masters program and had to create a business plan. I worked with him on the research material, and with more thought and prayer on my and my wife’s part, it was an easy decision to start my own business.

If you had it to do all over again, would you still become a pharmacist?

Yes! It has been a great career. I have had many days of helping others. I kept my “list” for some time and pharmacy has indeed fulfilled the majority of things that I wanted my “job/occupation” to do for us.

Has being a pharmacist met your expectations? Why?
Yes. By positioning myself in a community pharmacy and then into compounding, I have been able to meet our needs as a large family (we had seven children when I graduated and ended with 10). That has been quite satisfying professionally and emotionally.

What do you like least about being a pharmacist?
Here in my own business, the greatest distraction and least pleasurable aspect has been managing/motivating people.

Describe a typical day at work.
Arrive at 8 a.m. and do research on a disease, its cause and standard treatment, and all the things that I can find from forums with other compounders, Med Line and other sources of information. I then try to put this in the computer for further reference. As I do the research, I try to be open for any information that might be beneficial in any disease state and enter that into the computer.

After we open at 10 a.m., we develop formulas, oversee the technicians, take new prescriptions and consult with all the patients that come in. There are two main types of consultation: a) when someone picks up their medication; or b) when they come in for information or evaluation.

Any time I have interaction with a customer, I try to be aware of when I can share information about something that might be of help to them or whomever they are talking about. We have a number of papers on various disease states that we share with our patrons.

After we close, I continue to do research for a couple of hours. All the research allows me to be of more help, to better serve.

This was my schedule prior to open heart surgery in September 2010 for an irregular heartbeat that was probably due to stress. It is still not under total control, so I am working 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., three days a week, with an hour off every day for lunch (the first time since my being a pharmacist that I have taken time off for lunch).

I guess it is about time to slow down some, since I have worked close to 12 hours day, most days, since 1971 when I got out of school.

How many hours do you sleep per night? 
Now, eight to 10, in the past, it varied from four to six.

How many weeks of vacation do you take each year?

Are you satisfied with your income?
It has been sufficient for my needs for the most part. I haven’t gotten rich or have a lot of things, and at one time it wasn’t nearly sufficient for my families needs, but we did get by as best we could.

If you took out educational loans, is/was paying them back a financial strain?
Yes, but by living as frugal as we could we scrimped by.

In your position now, knowing what you do – what would you say to yourself 10 years ago?
You are on the right path. Keep up the good work. Try to find a little more time to relax. Start looking for a buyer to turn it over to.

From your perspective, what is the biggest problem in healthcare today?
Doctors not having the time to properly listen to their patients and not being willing to expand their knowledge beyond what they learned in school or what they have gotten from whatever route they presently get their information. Due to litigation, they are often not willing to make a judgment call as to what the problem might be and avoid having to do expensive lab work.

Where do you see pharmacy in 10 years?
Fewer pharmacists, more technicians. Less and less personal care, unless you go to a pharmacist that has set themselves up in some way to provide that care for the patient, generally at the patient’s expense. Unless we get more Obama care, then it will be in shambles. Patients won’t be able to get what they need, even if they are willing to pay for it. They will wait in long lines for a few minutes of attention. I don’t see a bright future for the profession or the public.

What types of outreach/volunteer work do you do, if any?
I’m very involved with my church and its functions. I spend about 12 hours a week in various services connected with church; teaching, helping with various ordinances, and providing individual help to people. Having my own pharmacy also has given me the opportunity to serve others, including at times giving a prescription to those who could not afford their medication.

What’s your favorite TV show?
The movies that Hallmark and GMC Channels show (feel good programs).  I do enjoy CSI and Burn Notice, too.

How do you spend your free time? Any hobbies?
In addition to all of the above, I enjoy but don’t get to do much woodworking. I also have a nice camera and enjoy taking photographs.

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